Monday, April 13, 2009

Summer Research

This past summer I was involved with the Turtle project under the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. The Turtle project was designed a few years back as a conservation project for loggerhead sea turtles. Originally it was designed to obtain an idea of the population of reproductive male loggerhead sea turtles. To catch the male sea turtles you must go offshore to find them because unlike the females who come back to a shore, once the males leave their nests as infants they never hit land again. So the research vessel was a old shrimp boat, the Lady Lisa now owned by the SC DNR and to catch the sea turtles we "shrimped" for them. (it was a little like a finding a needle in a hay stack) With about twenty trolls a day we averaged about 1 turtle a day. Once we caught a turtle we would first lay them on the "turtle chair" which makes them sit upside down.
This position made it easier to draw blood and check vitals.
Then we would place the turtle on a tire so they could not run
away (keep in mind these turtles sometimes weighed up to 500
lbs so these tasks weren't exactly graceful). Then we would tag
them with an external metal tag and an internal microchip tag.
If we caught a large mature female we might do ultrasound to
see if she had any eggs and every other day we would take a biopsy from the turtle’s flipper (seemed to be very painful). Then we connected the turtle to a harness and would weigh them. After weighing, we then lowered them over the side of the boat and let them go (defiantly not as easily as it sounds). So now you’re asking yourself what does this have to do with conservation? Well the sex of a sea turtle is determined by where the egg lays in the nest. The lower cooler part of the nest is where males are found and the higher warmer part of the nest is where females are found. So remember, "hot chicks" and "cool dudes." This comes into play when you think about the increasing beach erosion and the water level rising which pushes the nest to higher warmer parts of the beach causing more females to be created. If we need to figure out if the male population is big enough to sustain the loggerhead population we have to go find them offshore.

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